PLEASANTON -- The Foothill High football team has a mix of strong senior leaders and a touted junior trio of quarterback Kyle Kearns and blazers Isaiah Langley and Darrell Adams.
There's also that trademark Falcons spirit -- a reflection of veteran coach Matt Sweeney.
"He definitely pushes us to the limit," three-year starter Perry Cheney said of Sweeney "He'll give us everything he can give and makes us give everything that we can give. You always find that extra push from him to work harder."
The Falcons plan to air it out in what could be one of the East Bay's most explosive offenses. Kearns, after paying his dues as a sophomore, has drawn recruiters from across the country to the campus. He is a four-star recruit on ESPN Recruiting Nation Football, and Cal, Stanford, Michigan, Texas, Georgia are among his many suitors.
Kearns, who is 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, will look to Langley, who has an offer from Cal as a defensive back, and super-athletic tight end Adams (6-3, 210).
Sweeney says Kearns has grown up and matured, and the game has slowed down for him.
"Big improvement," Cheney, an outside linebacker/left tackle, said of Kearns. "I think he's a lot more confident in the pocket."
Senior Jamirr Holland, a tailback, slot receiver, defensive back and returner, could be sitting on a big season. He was hampered right up to last season by a partially dislocated shoulder, and then suffered a broken foot in the winter, which slowed his preparations again. But he seems healthy now and expects the Falcons to contend for the EBAL title.
Fullback Matt Luey, "a tank," according to Holland, will give the Falcons an inside force to go along with the speedsters causing havoc in the secondary. Wide receiver/free safety Ryan Anderson, who is headed to Oregon for baseball, is also looking good.
"One thing we do have is a lot of speed," Holland said, noting Langley and Adams. "We've also got some young guys, Isaiah Floyd, Ruben Mercado, who are really coming on. So we've got a good group. We'll be fast and we'll be aggressive."
Sweeney says his team's main weaknesses are a lack of game experience on the defensive front and a lack of discipline in "our decision-making."
He describes his senior class as "pretty hungry." Cheney and Johann Bolt, a middle linebacker/guard, seem to epitomize the Sweeney approach.
"They've displayed that (hunger) and we seem to be kind of an older style Foothill team because of that," Sweeney said. "The big-name guys are those junior guys. The no-name guys have been our senior leadership guys.
"We had a lot of big-name guys last year, so (the current senior cast) kind of went under the radar, and they're kind of under the radar again, but they're pretty tough guys. It's been a really good offseason in that sense."
Bolt says the team is more dedicated than last year's version, which finished 6-6 overall and 3-3 in league, advancing to the North Coast Section Division I quarterfinals before falling to California 36-6.
The Falcons may lack the size of some of the EBAL power brokers, but believe they can bridge the gap with technique and preparation.
Besides, Cheney says heart and drive can trump size.
"The thing with the big guys that most people don't understand, is if you get into them, if you get your facemask into their throat, they're done," Cheney said. "You can do anything you want to them once you get there. It's all the fight to get there. It doesn't really matter what size you are, but if you can get there you'll push them off the line and you'll win."
Holland seems to relish playing with a diverse group of players, each with a common purpose.
"I feel the team is really close," Holland said. "We have a lot of different age groups and different styles of people that have come together. There's a lot of competition. Sweeney has really put in the competition aspect, and that's not only made us better as a team, but it's making us closer as a group."
Aug. 31 at Novato 2 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Freedom 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 LAS LOMAS 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 VINTAGE 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 LIVERMORE* 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Monte Vista* 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at California* 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 GRANADA* 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 at S. Ramon Valley* 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 AMADOR VALLEY* 7 p.m.
* EBAL game